13 November 2012

President Jacob Zuma, Speech to the PWM, 2012


No Woman, No Revolution, Part 10b

President Jacob Zuma, Speech to the PWM, 2012

This document is included as a further assistance in examining the questions as previously put:

Is the Progressive Women’s Movement (PWM) supposed to be a subsidiary of the ANC Women’s League, and therefore a junior partner of the ANC? Or is the PWM a wider movement, open to all women, of which the ANCWL is only one part among many? To what extent have the problems and tensions of the FEDSAW period in the 1950s been solved? Or, have those problems not been solved?”

In the attached and linked speech to the PWM the South African President certainly does not directly address these questions. It is even quite hard to see, during many passages of the speech, where they refer to women and women’s organisation, at all.

Among many other things, the President said the following:

“To further promote the legislative environment, we are to fast-track the Gender Equality Bill. This progressive Bill will promote the prohibition and elimination of discriminatory religious practises, and eliminate discrimination in access to socio-economic rights.

“It will seek to prohibit harmful traditional practises. It will help eliminate and prohibit discrimination in employment and other opportunities for women.

“The provisions of the Bill also already talk to the need for the participation of women in the economy and also full economic emancipation for women.

“The legislation alone will not achieve our goals. This means that all of us, men and women, must actively work to promote women’s rights as human rights.

“It means that the Progressive Women’s Movement must work with relevant government departments on an on-going basis to promote development and women’s emancipation.

“What is important is that all these new or amended laws and protocols indicate that the commitment exists and that we are moving forward with the promotion of gender equality. Some progress has been made already in many areas.”

Read and discuss the document, comrades.

Apart from the above, President Zuma also, in the same period of time in 2012, made a speech in memory of Charlotte Maxeke, which is on the ANC web site, and another on the occasion of the 56th Anniversary of the 1956, Women’s March to the Union Buildings, which is also National Women’s Day in South Africa. The latter speech is attached and linked below.

These are the last documents in our course, “No Woman, No Revolution”.

12 November 2012

Umsebenzi Online on Women


No Woman, No Revolution, Part 10a

Umsebenzi Online on Women

Umsebenzi Online is the South African Communist Party’s twice-monthly e-mail newsletter.

The Umsebenzi Online archive is on the SACP web site. You can subscribe to Umsebenzi Online (free) from the Umsebenzi Online distribution-group web site, or by using the Umsebenzi Online promotion box near the top of the right-hand panel on the Communist University blog, or in the left-hand panel on the SACP web site.

You can use the same promotion box (or this one) to invite anybody to be on the Umsebenzi Online list. Just put an e-mail address in the box and click “Subscribe”. An e-mail will go to that address, inviting the person to click to confirm that the she or he wants to subscribe. It’s quick and convenient.

Umsebenzi Online is the SACP’s authentic voice. It usually carries an article by the elected SACP General Secretary, currently Dr Blade Nzimande.

To complete the picture of the women’s movement that the CU has tried to provide in our ten-part “No Woman, No Revolution” set, the nearly last main document (attached, and linked below) of our course consists of four articles published in Umsebenzi Online between 2006 and 2009.

Please read the document, comrades.

2006 was the year when the CU did its first “No Woman, No Revolution” series, from February to May of that year, meeting at the Women’s Jail, Constitution Hill. August 2006 was when we saw the launch of the “Progressive Woman’s Movement”, something different and opposite in character from what the Communist University had imagined was needed.

Here are some speculative theses on the question of women in South Africa:

  • Women, as such, have no interests that are antagonistic to those of men, but women have a common and particular felt experience among themselves, as women, of the oppression that capitalism has brought to their lives.
  • Therefore there is a basis for working women to organise as a mass, by which is meant a small or large number of people who feel a common disadvantage in society, and who in consequence organise themselves together for their collective good.
  • Women’s mass organisations have the same requirement as trade unions and political-vanguard organisations, to be both democratic and centralist. Therefore women’s organisations should have individual membership and branches, hold periodic national congresses, have corporate personality, and have a constitution to ensure democracy.
  • The SACP, as a vanguard political organisation of the working class, is designed to relate to such mass organisations, just as it relates to trade union organisations, and others.
  • As a matter of historical fact, the ANC, through the ANCWL, has on at least four successive occasions since its founding in 1948, acted to ensure that the above kind of democratic, mass, individual-membership general-purpose women’s movement could not flourish. The ANCWL, under pressure from the ANC, blighted FEDSAW, the UDF women’s structures, and the Women’s National Coalition, and it now blights the Progressive Women’s Movement.
  • The ANC adopted “non-sexism” in the 1980s, and the current South African Constitution is non-sexist, but in practice these provisions mean little as compared to the material non-existence of a mass women’s movement that has membership and democracy, and which is politically aligned to the working class and to the cause of socialism.
  • Very little of the above is discussed in the general public realm. What discussion there may be is often based on unexamined vulgar bourgeois-feminist, eclectic and post-modernist precepts. The situation is, on the face of it, much the same as it was seven years ago in mid-2005, when the Communist University began to put together its first “No Woman, No Revolution” series.
  • Yet great gains have been made. The one was the election, in December 2007 at Polokwane, of an ANC National Executive Committee of 84 members of which 50% are women. The other was the announcement in 2009 by the SACP GS that the YCLSA has a membership that is more than 50% female.

11 November 2012

SACP on Women’s Day, 2012


No Woman, No Revolution, Part 10

SACP on Women’s Day, 2012

Jenny Schreiner is a member of the SACP 13th Congress Central Committee. The attached and linked document was written by her for publication in the Umsebenzi Online that came out on 8 August 2012, on the eve of National Women’s Day.

Schreiner says, just before aptly quoting Lenin:

“The rights protected in the [South African] Constitution are rights that all women can claim, but they are not yet rights that all women, particularly working class women, are living. The equality in law and rights does not automatically translate into equality in access to jobs, resources, and protection.”

Summing up the situation of women in South Africa and the way forward, Schreiner says:

“The material base of women's emancipation has to be in the integration of women into the economy without gender discrimination, the equalising of the gender division of labour within the household and addressing social and political gender equity.”

Schreiner says:

“...the struggle for women's emancipation is a struggle within a struggle and one that touches both the personal and the political.”

This is discussed in terms of working women’s possibilities or lack thereof, where:

“Work and activity outside the home is premised on an inequality between men and women defined by their household or domestic responsibilities.”

Schreiner then refers to Alexandra Kollontai, whose writing we have already studied in this course. Schreiner writes in a passage that helps us, considerably, in terms of the way that our course is problematised:

“Alexandra Kollontai identified that the social basis of women's oppression lies in class relations and private ownership of the means of production and appropriation. She discussed whether there was a basis for a cross-class women's movement. She argued that working class women will more easily identify in struggle alongside their working class menfolk than to side with bourgeois women against men.

“This is an important issue for the Party to engage with, particularly in the context of the Progressive Women's Movement.

“It should be clear that the hegemony of the working class and its organisation in all sites of struggle is weakened if working class women are excluded from that organisation.

“However it is equally important for working class women to assert working class leadership of the progressive women's forces in society and form allies amongst the multi-class strata in the liberation movement. The experience of relative discrimination by women across classes provides a unique opportunity for women of the middle classes to be mobilised in support of working class women's interests, and thereby become aware of working class issues.”

Schreiner lays out all the possible permutations, except one.  Working class women can organise in concert with working class men. They can also organise across class lines to create class alliance with middle-class women.

The third possibility, the one that Schreiner rightly or wrongly omits, is the organisation of working women as such.

These three possibilities are not mutually exclusive. It is not unreasonable to go for all three kinds of organisation.

It is reasonable to omit the possibility of a working women’s movement, that is a dedicated working-class women’s movement, if it is regarded as a practical impossibility. This is something to discuss.

9 November 2012

Women’s Power


No Woman, No Revolution, Part 9b

Women’s Power

During this course we have looked at the “woman’s question” in a practical way. Especially we have said that it is a revolutionary necessity that the women should be organised en masse in order that they should become a collective “Subject of History”. But we have not extensively examined this thing called “Subject of History” during this particular course.

Simply, being a “Subject of History” means having the power to act, as in the revolutionary slogan “Power to the People!” It means being free. It means having “agency”.

The item linked below is “Postmodernism and Hindu Nationalism” by Meera Nanda [pictured]. This piece of writing can help readers to understand how, in a triple context of philosophy, national liberation and feminism, the crucial or pivotal point of struggle is usually exactly this question of agency.

Meera Nanda is a secular rational humanist philosopher in general, and an expert on Hindu nationalism, bourgeois feminism and anti-humanist postmodernism in particular.

Postmodernist philosophy, reactionary nationalism and mystical feminism all bear down upon the concept of freedom, attempting to crush it. All try to return the people in general, and women in particular, to a condition of relentless bondage and victimhood of circumstances.

What is common to all of these aspects, whether in India or in South Africa, is the evacuation of popular agency and the refusal of the mass Subject of History following the liberation struggle, which in the case of both India and South Africa promised precisely this thing - freedom - above all other things.

In India the promise was “Swaraj and in South Africa, “Power to the People”. Independence and national sovereignty were supposed to be inseparable from mass popular agency, and vice versa.

In practice, political independence co-existed with bourgeois dictatorship and neo-colonialism, and these latter factors trumped and negated the mass popular power, including organised women’s power.

Revolutionary organs of people’s power were dismantled. Golden Calves were raised up in place of the slogans of popular power. These substitutes were the slogans of bourgeois nationalism, national mystique, women’s solidarity versus men, and the cult that holds inanimate things (the earth, the environment) to be more valuable than humanity.

In all cases the best remedy will be that of the SACP: Educate, Organise and Mobilise.

  • The above is to introduce the original reading-text: Postmodernism, Hindu nationalism, Vedic science, Nanda, 2004, Part 1 and Part 2.

8 November 2012

What’s Freedom got to do with Women?


No Woman, No Revolution, Part 9a

Is freedom female?

What’s Freedom got to do with Women?

This course, “No Woman, No Revolution”, problematises the necessity of involving women, who are more than one-half of humanity, in any possible proletarian revolution against capitalism.

The proletarian revolution, as much as the National Democratic Revolution that precedes it, is a struggle for freedom, conforming to the slogan “Power to the People”.

In that sense, the entire 16 courses of the Communist University are “about” freedom. Communism itself is all about freedom. The revolutionary Christopher Caudwell called freedom “the good that contains all other goods”. One could presume that there are no opponents to this view. Countless writings praising freedom, and works of art like the colossal Statue of Liberty in New York, USA, seem to deny the possibility of any other view. Freedom is for women as much as for men.

But in fact, as soon as the appeal to freedom becomes effective in securing support for the struggle for socialism, bourgeois thinkers and writers find ways to abandon it, and even to condemn it.

We now come across this phenomenon – the refusal of freedom – in the matter of women’s power in society, just as we have come across it elsewhere in relation to the liberation of Africa from colonialism.

For an example of the latter, the first President of Ghana, Kwame Nkrumah, discusses the “negritude” that the first President of Senegal, Léopold Sédar Senghor believed in, as follows:

‘Senghor has, indeed, given an account of the nature of the return to Africa. His account is highlighted by statements using some of his own words: that the African is "a field of pure sensation"; that he does not measure or observe, but "lives" a situation; and that this way of acquiring "knowledge" by confrontation and intuition is “negro-African"; the acquisition of knowledge by reason, "Hellenic". In African Socialism [London and New York, 1964, pp.72-3], he [Senghor] proposes “that we consider the Negro-African as he faces the Other: God, man, animal, tree or pebble, natural or social phenomenon. In contrast to the classic European, the Negro-African does not draw a line between himself and the object, he does not hold it at a distance, nor does he merely look at it and analyse it. After holding it at a distance, after scanning it without analysing it, he takes it vibrant in his hands, careful not to kill or fix it. He touches it, feels it, smells it. The Negro-African is like one of those Third Day Worms, a pure field of sensations... Thus the Negro-African sympathises, abandons his personality to become identified with the Other, dies to be reborn in the Other. He does not assimilate; he is assimilated. He lives a common life with the Other; he lives in a symbiosis.”

‘It is clear that socialism cannot be founded on this kind of metaphysics of knowledge.’

Kwame Nkrumah, “African Socialism Revisited”, 1967

In similar fashion to Senghor, when confronted with the possibility of freedom and power, the philosopher Judith Butler rejects it. For Butler, power is an unwanted, male imposition. Similarly, for Senghor, subjective freedom is “Hellenic” and therefore to be rejected because it is identified with the colonial oppressor.

We have seen three contradictions that are active in the world of feminism. One is between the bourgeois and the proletarian feminists. The second is between the organised and the structureless. The third is between the search for freedom, and its contrary: rejection of autonomy.

All of these contradictions are related. As in others among the CU courses, we have to conclude that the resolution of such contradictions requires philosophy, and not just any philosophy but the most powerful, avant-guard kind of philosophy.

James Heartfield’s 2002 work, “The Death of the Subject Explained” is a strong book that deals with the fundamental question of all philosophy: the relation of mind to matter. In it, Heartfield debunks all kinds of anti-rational, anti-humanist philosophy, including post-Modernism, and in the attached extract, he counters the anti-humanist feminism of Butler and others.

By humanist is simply meant the acceptance that the combined ability to observe, think, plan and act is the unique attribute of human beings, and also the source of human morality.

The very first words of matured Marxism – Karl Marx’s 1845 “Theses on Feuerbach” – deal with this fundamental question of subject and object, mind and matter. The first sentence of Thesis 1 on Feuerbach is:

“The main defect of all hitherto-existing materialism — that of Feuerbach included — is that the Object, actuality, sensuousness, are conceived only in the form of the object, or of contemplation, but not as human sensuous activity, practice, not subjectively.”

Suffice it to say that Marx here shows his principal concern, which never wavered or varied, namely: the priority of human freedom. So long as we remain Marxists, we would have to insist on freedom as our goal, as the goal of humanity, and as the goal of women.

Whereas bourgeois feminists like Butler and others quoted by Heartfield have ended up opposing freedom.

On this kind of feminism Heartfield concludes:

“What began as a criticism of the monopoly over freedom exercised by men has turned, paradoxically, into a criticism of freedom as such.”

We can also say, paraphrasing Nkrumah: ‘It is clear that revolution cannot be founded on this kind of metaphysics of knowledge.’

5 November 2012

Caste, Class or Sex?


No Woman, No Revolution, Part 9

Caste, Class or Sex?

Evelyn Reed is the author of the 1975 book “Woman’s Evolution”. Unfortunately, it is not on the Internet. “Women - Caste, Class or Oppressed Sex” (1970), the essay attached and linked below, contains some of the ideas that were included in the longer work. 

Our picture today is of Valentina Tereshkova, the first woman in space, from the Soviet Union, on 16 June 1963.

Reed writes of “the downfall of women” as if it was a single historic event, which, from the point of view of the “metropolitan” or advanced capitalist countries, it appears to be. Of course Reed was aware, like Engels, that there were still contemporary societies existing on earth which had not yet experienced, or fully experienced the full downfall of women. The downfall has in practice been a long cascade, which is not yet at an end.

The downfall of women is real. It corresponds exactly with the arrival of class-divided society, with its institutions of the patriarchal family, private property and state power. This is what Engels expressed so clearly in 1884, following on from the work of Henry Morgan and Karl Marx. Evelyn Reed does not contradict Engels, but her work opens up the story in more detail.

In “Woman’s Evolution” Reed shows how nearly all the productive technologies that humans still use today for basic survival, from horticulture and animal husbandry to pottery, weaving and leatherwork, and including building and the use of fire, originated in the sphere of the women, which was the human settlement itself.

In this short essay, Reed makes the basic case for the historical and materialist view of human life, from which proceeds an integrated understanding of the entire society of men and women together, and the consequent necessity for socialism. After that, she contrasts and compares with some of her contemporary opponents of forty years ago, whose arguments were similar to those of the bourgeois feminists of today in South Africa. Here are some excerpts from the essay:

“Under the clan system of the sisterhood of women and the brotherhood of men there was no more possibility for one sex to dominate the other than there was for one class to exploit another. Women occupied the most eminent position because they were the chief producers of the necessities of life as well as the procreators of new life.”

“Woman’s overthrow went hand in hand with the subjugation of the mass of toiling men to the master class of men.”

“Women, then, have been condemned to their oppressed status by the same social forces and relations which have brought about the oppression of one class by another, one race by another, and one nation by another. It is the capitalist system - the ultimate stage in the development of class society - which is the fundamental source of the degradation and oppression of women.”

“…to say that women form a separate caste or class must logically lead to extremely pessimistic conclusions with regard to the antagonism between the sexes in contrast with the revolutionary optimism of the Marxists. For, unless the two sexes are to be totally separated, or the men liquidated, it would seem that they will have to remain forever at war with each other. As Marxists we have a more realistic and hopeful message. We deny that women’s inferiority was predestined by her biological makeup or has always existed.”

1 November 2012

Women, Race and Class


No Woman, No Revolution, Part 8a

Women, Race and Class

Angela Davis is well known but hard to summarise. She is certainly a scholar. She is also a holder of the Lenin Peace Prize from the Soviet Union, and she was twice a US Vice-Presidential candidate on behalf of the CPUSA. [The image is a Cuban poster for Angela].

This link takes you to an interview that Angela Davis did with Gary Younge of the Guardian (London) in 2007, during a trip which also took her to Johannesburg, as recorded by the CU here.

This link takes you to the Angela Davis page on Wikipedia, where, as usual, there are more links, including those at the bottom of the page.

Chapter 13 from Angela Davis’s 1981 book, Women, Race and Class, linked below, is to a large extent a polemic against the Wages for Housework Movement of that time, led by Mariarosa Dalla Costa in Italy.

Davis tackles the matter of housework first, arguing for a communist solution to the drudgery of child care, domestic cleaning, food preparation, and laundry.

She shows that the current situation of women is historically recent in origin, and that the repression of women coincides in historical development of human society with the appearance of private property, quoting Engels’ “Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State”. Davis reports on her 1973 interaction with the Masai people of Tanzania, where there was still division of labour between the sexes that was “complementary as opposed to hierarchical,” according to Davis.

Davis recounts, in her own way, the nature of the capitalist wages system, where money is only paid for the survival or continued availability of labour power, and nothing at all is paid for the expropriated product of labour. Davis also records aspects of the South African apartheid system of exploitation, which was still in full force at that time.

In her concluding paragraph Davis says: “The only significant steps toward ending domestic slavery have in fact been taken in the existing socialist countries.” In other words, wages for housework under capitalism is an ineffective gimmick; the real solution to women’s problems in society can only come from changing society.

The Communist University is suggesting that the democratic organisation of women in the same kind of way as workers are organised, so that their organisation is a component of democracy and is not outside of democracy, is the only way that women can form a collective purpose.

Wages for housework is not a major issue in South Africa at the present time.